Floating down the canal is a wonderful way to discover the historic city. If you want to intersperse the cruise with some on-land sightseeing, buy a ‘hop-on hop-off’ pass from Canal Bus.
Amsterdam is a land of canals and bridges - respectively, over 100km and 1,500 of them.
Amsterdam’s canal system was first built in the 17th century to a careful plan: the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht were laid out in concentric semicircles, with the Singelgracht forming the outermost defensive canal. The canals, strung with radial bridges, offered a form of transport and water management for the city’s rapidly expanding residential neighbourhoods.
In 2010, the canal belt was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are no fewer than 1,550 monumental canalside buildings in the city - so a cruise offers plenty of sightseeing.
Prinsengracht, the longest of the canals, is full of legacies of the Golden Age - the opulent period in which Amsterdam was the world’s wealthiest city. Noordekerk (Northern Church), Noordemarket (Northern Market), Westerkerk (Western Church) and also the Anne Frank House can all be seen from here. Keizersgracht’s Homomonument commemorates the victims of homophobic persecuction. Herengracht’s fashionable Golden Bend is teeming with grand mansions.
The canal and street of Zwanenburgwal, in Amsterdam’s centre, is one of the city’s most gorgeous, and adjoins the lovely market of Waterlooplein: Rembrandt lived here, as did the philosopher Spinoza. Another stunning spot is Brouwersgracht, which boasts lavish apartments converted from warehouses which used to store imported spices and silks from Asia.
Built in 1995 in Amsterdam’s northeast, on the manmade Java Island, Brantasgracht, Lamonggracht, Majanggracht and Seranggracht are the city’s newest canals. 19 young architects designed modern reinterpretations of classic canalside houses. Each design is unique, and the canals also feature decorative metal bridges. Java Island is a bit out of the way, but well worth a visit: the Venice of the North is alive and well.
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